Funerals and tangihanga

Note: For information about funding for funerals and tangihanga, see below in this chapter, “Financial support for bereaved families”.

Arranging the funeral

Usually, families are happy to hand control of funeral arrangements over to a funeral director. However, you don’t have to do this; you and other immediate family may want to be more actively involved in the final arrangements as part of your grieving process.

Using a funeral director

A funeral director can take care of the full range of legal and practical tasks involved, including:

  • transporting the body
  • checking that all the legal requirements and documents for burial or cremation are in order
  • the embalming, care and presentation of the deceased’s body
  • organising the minister or celebrant and other people you might need, like an organist
  • death and funeral notices
  • flowers and catering
  • support services for bereaved family and friends
  • registering the death.

It’s best to use a funeral director from the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand. They have to have appropriate qualifications and experience, and must also follow a Code of Ethics – this requires them to, for example, respect “the ethnic origin and spiritual beliefs of the deceased person” (see

Arranging the funeral yourself

Many families also decide to arrange the funeral themselves. If you decide not to use a funeral director, there are some legal requirements you’ll need to take care of:

  • Confirmation of cause of death – The body can’t be buried or cremated unless a doctor has issued a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death or, if the death had to be reported to the coroner, the coroner has issued an Order for Disposal of Body.
  • Registering the death – Within three days after the burial or cremation, you’ll need to register the death with Births, Deaths and Marriages.

For more details about those steps, see above in this chapter, “Confirming and registering the death”.

Embalming isn’t always necessary if the body is to be buried or cremated within two or three days after death. However, particularly if the body is to be kept at home, the family may want to consider embalming. The speed with which the body may decompose will depend on different factors, including the cause of death, any medication the deceased may have been taking, and the time of year. It’s best to get advice about this from a funeral director.

Some other tasks or decisions you’ll probably need to consider can include:

  • contacting other family and friends, and publishing death or funeral notices in newspapers and online
  • the form of the service – for example, whether it will be led by a minister, a non-religious funeral celebrant, or a family member
  • letting people know if the deceased wanted any donations to go to a particular charity (instead of flowers for example)
  • deciding on a place where people can gather after the funeral – you might want to ask friends to organise food, or perhaps organise professional caterers for this.

Pre-arranged funerals

The deceased may have decided to arrange and pay for a funeral in advance. They might have left instructions in their will or with family members about what they’d like to happen. These instructions aren’t legally binding on the family, but it would be unusual for a family not to follow them.

Sometimes people decide to pay for their funeral in advance. The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand operates a pre-paid funeral scheme where in planning for your funeral you meet with a funeral director to talk about arrangements and you pay the price of the funeral into a special trust account (see

The cost of the pre-paid funeral, up to $10,000, isn’t counted as part of your assets (property) when Work and Income are working out whether you qualify for a residential care subsidy for rest home care.


Whānau and tūpāpaku

Release of tūpāpaku (the body) to whānau

In most cases when a person has died the doctor who looked after them during their final illness will sign a certificate confirming the cause of death, and legally this immediately releases the tūpāpaku to the whānau so that it can be buried.

Coroners Act 2006, ss 25, 26, 32-35, 37

In some cases, however, a death has to be reported to the local coroner, who may then want to do a post-mortem (autopsy) to confirm the cause of death (see above “Confirming and registering the death”). The law here requires the coroner to take account of tikanga Māori and other cultural beliefs and practices in various ways:

  • When deciding whether to order a post-mortem, the coroner has to take into account whether this would cause distress or offence to the family because of their cultural beliefs and practices. (The family can also object to the post-mortem, and can take their objection to the High Court if necessary.)
  • If the coroner does decide a post-mortem is necessary, the coroner can order it to be done immediately to take account of requirements under tikanga Māori (and under other cultural beliefs and practices) for the tūpāpaku to be released to the family as soon as possible after death.
  • The coroner can also allow whānau (and a minister) to stay with the tūpāpaku while it’s with the coroner. This recognises the tikanga requirements that whānau should stay with the tūpāpaku at all times until burial.

    Note: In 2016, Parliament’s Māori Affairs Committee began an inquiry into issues to do with whānau access to and management of tūpāpaku. This includes the legal powers and practices of police, coroners, pathologists, other government agencies and funeral directors, and how these affect the ability of whānau to see and remain with the deceased’s tūpāpaku and to have it released into their custody.

Disagreements among whānau about where tūpāpaku will be buried

Takamore v Clarke [2013] 2 NZLR 733 (SC)

If whānau disagree about where the deceased’s body should be buried, the person who has the legal power to decide is the executor under the deceased’s will. If there’s no will, then this power will usually rest with the closest relative, as the person who has the best legal claim to be appointed by the courts as the “administrator” for the estate (for more details, see in this chapter “Burial and cremation”).

The executor/administrator has to take into account the views of immediate and wider whānau, and to consider different cultural, religious and spiritual practices. However, they don’t have to actively seek out the views of whānau.

Whānau can also challenge the executor/administrator’s decisions in the High Court.

Financial support for tangihanga

What financial support is available to whānau for tangihanga?

Contact your iwi organisation to find out if you’re able to get a grant for the tangihanga. Whānau may also be able to get funding from a Māori land trust or other organisation in which they (or the deceased) have an interest (see the chapter “Māori land”, under “Methods of managing Māori land: Trusts, incorporations, and reservations”).

To find out about other possible sources of support, contact Te Puni Kōkiri or your local marae or Māori church.

You may also be able to get a funeral grant from Work and Income, or from ACC if the deceased died in an accident (for more information, see in this chapter “Financial support for bereaved families”).

Gathering kaimoana for tangihanga and hui

Overview of Māori customary fishing rights

Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998; Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999; Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013 regs 50, 51

The amateur fishing regulations allow anyone to gather shellfish and other kaimoana up to particular daily limits if they’re not fishing or gathering commercially, and this might be enough for the tangihanga you’re preparing for. For example, the limit for pāua is usually 10 per person per day, and so a group of three of you can gather up to 30 pāua in one day (for the amateur daily limits, see the chapter “Common crimes”, under “Pāua poaching and other fisheries offences”). However, if a tangihanga or hui will need more than those standard limits allow, you can ask local tangata whenua to give you written permission to go over the limits, or to use different fishing methods or equipment than would normally be allowed.

The detailed rules that apply are slightly different depending on whether or not kaitiaki have been formally confirmed by the Ministry of Primary Industries for your particular rohe (area) under the special customary fishing regulations.

Those customary fishing regulations enable local tangata whenua – those who have mana whenua and mana moana over the particular rohe – to appoint particular people to be kaitiaki for that rohe. The appointment of those individuals for that rohe is then formally confirmed by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). The appointed kaitiaki can then give written permission for customary food gathering within their rohe.

If no kaitiaki have been formally appointed for your particular rohe, you’re still allowed to gather for tangihanga and hui under the amateur fishing regulations if you get written permission from a representative of local tangata whenua: for more details, see below, “How do I get permission for customary fishing, and who from?”

Kaitiaki have been appointed under the special customary fishing regulations for several hundred different rohe, but there are also many rohe that aren’t covered. For example, kaitiaki have been appointed for Whakatāne and Ōhope in the Bay of Plenty, but Waiōtahi and Ōpōtiki further east aren’t covered and therefore come under the rules in the amateur fishing regulations.

There may also be specific regulations that apply to customary fishing in particular rivers and lakes. Generally these will set out the same sort of processes as the customary fishing regulations. MPI, or your local iwi organisation, should be able to tell you if specific rules apply in your area.

Note: The MPI website has a map showing all the rohe for which kaitiaki have been formally appointed under the customary fishing regulations. Go to: You can also ask the MPI about this by email, on

Traditional purposes for which kaimoana can be gathered

Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998, reg 2(1), and Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999, reg 2(1), definitions of “customary food gathering”

If kaitiaki have been formally appointed for your rohe, they can give you written permission to gather kaimoana for tangihanga, hui, koha or any other traditional purpose that they specifically decide.

Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013, reg 50(1)(a)

If no kaitiaki have been formally appointed for your rohe, written permission from representatives of local tangata whenua can only be given for gathering kaimoana for hui or tangihanga.

How do I get permission for customary fishing, and who from?

Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998, reg 11; Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999, reg 11

If kaitiaki have been formally appointed for your rohe, you’ll need to get written permission from one of them. You can email for information about exactly who you can get permission from.

Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013, reg 50(2)

If no kaitiaki have been formally appointed for your rohe, you’ll need to get written permission from either:

  • the committee for your marae
  • the local rūnanga
  • a local Māori Committee established under the Māori Community Development Act 1962
  • a Māori Trust Board.

You’ll need to keep the written permission with you, ready to show to fisheries officers if necessary.

What kinds of conditions will the authorisation include?

Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998, reg 11(3); Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999, reg 11(2)

When an official kaitiaki for your rohe gives you permission, this has to be in writing (unless the kaitiaki has formally confirmed some other process with the Ministry of Primary Industries). It must include a lot of detail – usually it has to say:

  • the dates it applies to
  • the names of the people who can gather the kaimoana
  • the purpose for which the kaimoana can be taken (such as a tangihanga)
  • the particular species covered and how many of each species can be taken
  • size limits
  • the fishing methods that can be used, and
  • the particular place where the catch can be used (the local marae for example).

The kaitiaki will set the size limits, catch limits, allowable methods and so on. They don’t have to follow the regular limits and restrictions that apply under the amateur fishing regulations.

If you breach any of the conditions, you won’t be protected by the customary fishing rules and could face criminal charges.

Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013, reg 51, Schedule 5

Permission granted by local tangata whenua if no kaitiaki have been officially appointed must set out the dates and the areas the permission applies to, and also a catch limit. It can also set down size limits and restrictions on fishing methods.

Help from iwi organisations in preparing for tangihanga

It may also be a good idea to contact your iwi organisation about your preparations for a tangihanga and what kaimoana you might need. A number of iwi organisations have set up processes to help their members get permits, and some may even be able to help supply kaimoana. (See, for example,

What happens if I gather kaimoana without permission?

Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998, regs 41, 42, 46; Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999 regs 39, 40, 44

If you gather kaimoana for customary purposes without getting proper written permission from the kaitiaki or local tangata whenua, you can be given an infringement notice (like a speeding ticket) for a fine of up to $500, or in more serious cases you could face criminal charges in court. The same applies if you’ve got permission but you haven’t followed all the conditions – for example, if you go outside the specific areas the permission applies to, or you take more than it allows.

In serious cases you could potentially be given a community-based sentence (like community work) or a jail term. Any equipment you used when fishing, like your boat, car and diving gear, could also be seized and taken from you permanently.

(For information about the possible charges and penalties for fisheries offences, see the chapter “Common crimes”, under “Pāua poaching and other fisheries offences”.)

Fisheries Act 1996, ss 199-207

Note: Fisheries officers (who work for MPI) have very wide search and seizure powers and powers to require people to answer questions.

Whānau decisions about property

Making decisions about the deceased’s property at tangihanga

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, s 176

At a tangihanga, whānau can make decisions about Māori land, which will then need to be confirmed by the Māori Land Court. For more information, see below in this chapter, “Dealing with the deceased’s property / Māori land”.

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